Animal shelter changes directors

King County’s embattled animal care and control program has a new acting director to replace the old one.

King County’s embattled animal care and control program has a new acting director to replace the old one.

Wendy Keller, a county employee for 19 years with experience in planning construction projects, has been appointed to the position to help the agency improve its services and replace its aging and inadequate animal shelter in Kent, officials said.

She replaces Al Dams, who was the acting director since 2006. He has been given a new position as a planner and operational development manager for the county’s records and licensing division. The division includes animal control.

Keller was appointed by the division’s director, Carolyn Ableman, who cited Keller’s “expert managerial experience.”

For the past six years, Keller has been the project control officer on construction and professional contract services. She advised about 240 county project managers on high-rise buildings, waste-treatment facilities, roads, bridges and landfills. She also worked on development of the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

In recent months, the county’s animal shelter – which has a far-flung service territory that includes the Covington, Maple Valley and Black Diamond areas – has received heavy criticism from citizens and elected county officials, including County Council members. Critics, raising questions about the county’s ability to run the facility and suggesting it might be better under private management, complained that the shelter hasn’t provided adequate housing and other care for homeless animals. A citizens’ committee said conditions at the shelter have been unacceptable.

“We are doing something so poorly, we have to to take immediate action to change,” Councilwoman Julia Patterson said in March.

County Executive Ron Sims, who oversees the shelter program, has conceded that the shelter is “inadequate” but also claims conditions there are improving and further steps will be taken.

This week, Sims thanked Dams “for helping identify the numerous needs in the agency.”

Sims also endorsed Keller’s appointment.

Councilman Dow Constantine said the appointment Ableman “is the right decision for the animals in our care. I hope that she will act quickly to improve overall conditions in the shelters and ensure that each animal has the best chance to find a loving home.”

Keller also announced Tom Brown will be the program’s assistant acting manager. He previously has managed public-safety operations for the county.